Fantastic Four is a mess. There is no other way to say that. Fox’s reboot of the classic Marvel Comics family is bogged down with myriad problems, and most of them come from a scatterbrained script, written by people not familiar with the story and the property, that forgets all the tenets of storytelling and replaces them with awful lines, near-zero characterization, and nonsensical spectacle without any set up of any kind. But most of the film’s problems come in the latter half and that’s a big problem when the third act is not only the weakest of the three here, but one of the worst third acts of any film in recent memory. And sadly, that terrible third act dooms (pun FULLY intended) the rest of the film.
Fantastic Four opens with Reed Richards (Owen Judge) in fifth grade giving a report on Career Day. He wants to be scientist and he wants to be the first to crack teleportation. His wild ideas catch the attention of fellow student Ben Grimm (Evan Hanneman), and together, they begin work on a project — using items that only middle class families could have access to, and luckily, the Grimms own a junkyard — to build this device.
By the time Reed (now played by Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) are in high school, they’ve come close to teleportation, but unbeknownst to them, they are actually sending their Hot Wheels to another dimension. At a school science fair, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter, Sue (Kate Mara) see the demonstration and Reed is given a full scholarship to the Baxter Institute, a science-based think-tank that has also been working on inter-dimensional travel — on contract from the military.
Once at Baxter, Reed meets Franklin’s last star student, Victor (Toby Kebbell), who has only come back to the project because Reed has the answers and because of a hinted at affection for Sue. Franklin’s son, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), gave up the books for fast cars, but an incident brings him back into the fold and the pieces are now in place for the movie to truly begin. But then director Josh Trank (whether with interference from Fox or not) absolutely takes this train and steers it off the rails and into a grade school on picture day. Yes, it’s that bad.
The first two acts do an okay job of “reimagining” Marvel’s First Family of Comics. Yes, they are all a lot younger, and how they came together is changed drastically, and lifting from Mark Millar’s Ultimates version, the rocket ship has been replaced with dimensional travel, but the core of what is Fantastic Four is there, albeit barely. The problems begin late in the second act after the group gets their powers. All knowledge of the comic books, or the property as a whole, is completely thrown out the window, and by the time Victor Von Doom — now a monster from the other dimension — reappears, which leads into the atrocious third act, Trank has zero control over the movie, the script, his actors, and the project as a whole, and what is put on screen is a rushed, over-CG’d pile of green-screened excrement.
Now, it may be en vogue to crap on this movie, but this it not a pile on. Trank and company took a beloved 50-plus-year-old property and ruined it. Yes, ruined it. Whatever good will that was generated in the first half of the film is washed away when evil Doom appears, with a face that looks like it was lifted from Queen’s News of the World album cover, and begins destroying stuff essentially, “just because.” The lines coming out of the actors mouths are cringeworthy, and any amount of sense that the script may have contained in the prior hour is lost.
A lot was made of the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, and honestly, I had no problem with it. You can tell that Trank and Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater wrote the script to make up for the change in race, putting more thought on getting Jordan into the movie than on any actual plot development. Kate Mara is the best Sue Storm to date; she’s smart — a thinker — and she also keeps Reed and Victor both grounded. Bell’s Ben Grimm/The Thing is 100 percent CGI (finally!), and he looks decent, but the script calls for him to become a tool of the military, which he does happily, and let me tell you, it was jarring watching a character that I have loved for most of my life wantonly killing enemy soldiers. That’s not Ben Grimm. Never has been, never will be. As for Teller, he was in a no-win situation. His Reed is underwritten by people who have no idea who or what “Mr. Fantastic” is. Teller did his best with what he had, but honestly, Reed Richards isn’t the role for him, and having interviewed him two years ago, I think he knew it too.
Kebbell’s Victor was an actual bright spot, as his face — pre-incident — relayed the jealousy that the comic character has always had toward Reed — not just for his brains, but for his ability to connect with Sue. But when Victor becomes a monster, it just adds to smoking pile of garbage that this film ends up to be.
Comic fans have waited and hoped for a true Fantastic Four movie. Tim Story did his best with what he was given (and it didn’t help that he was overmatched and under-budgeted from the get-go — twice), and with this version now in theaters, Roger Corman’s unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four movie actually ranks as the best of them all, and if you’ve seen it, that will tell you just how bad this new version is. Our only hope, as fans, is that this movie will bomb at the box office like it bombs on the screen, and Fox lets the property go back to Marvel, who now has the smarts and the money to do what needs to be done the way it should be.
Until that time comes, Fantastic Four will be remembered as one of the worst comic adaptions ever, and the blame is big enough to go around. Josh Trank has already started.
Fantastic Four is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.
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